Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gaddafi and Pan Am Flight 103

Lest old acquainances be forgot, it may be remembered that Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi's government was responsible for the bombing of a U.S. civilian passenger jet in 1988 that killed 270 people en route from London Heathrow International Airport to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

It is only one of Gaddafi's crimes, of course, the chief current one being the use of armed force against Libyan civilians who are rebelling against his rule. Media reports put the death toll at 300. In the midst of the chaos in the oil-rich North African nation, runway damage has reportedly closed the Bengzahi airport to passenger planes. Simultaneously, U.S. officials are still being kept waiting for permission from the Gaddafi regime to transport Americans out of the country on charter flights.

The Dec. 21, 1988, bombing of the Pan American World Airways Boeing 747-100 killed 270 people: all 243 passengers and 16 crew members and 11 people on the ground in Lockabie, Scotland. One-hundred ninety of the dead were Americans. Forty-three Britons also perished, as did people from 19 other countries. Thirty-five of the Americans were students at Syracuse University, where I went to school in an earlier era. The victims could have been people I knew. That they weren't, doesn't make the continuing threats to civil aviation - one of the legacies of the Lockerbie bombing - easier to take or the 1988 crime any easier to forget.

Just to rub salt in the wounds of the victims' families, Libya successfully negotiated with the government of Scotland to get the only person convicted of the aircraft bombing - a former head of Libyan intelligence - released early, in August 2009, from prison on the grounds that he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and had just three months to live. The "compassionate release'' was carried out, amidst much self-adoring posturing by Scottish authorities, over the objections of U.S. officials. He returned to a hero's welcome in Gaddafi's capitol, Tripoli, where military helicopters now attack civilian protesters. At this writing, 18 months after his release, the convicted bomber is living quietly in Libya.

Today's global travel travails are at least in part due to the actions of the odious Gaddafi back in 1988. If Gaddafi is overthrown, as people of good will must fervently hope he is, the dictator - shorn of immunity as head of state - should be prosecuted in an international court of law. This would be a fitting, if belated, tribute to the travelers who lost their lives on Pan Am flight 103.

Auld lang syne, indeed.

1 comment:

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